Harley-Davidson and Philosophy Full-Throttle Aristotlebook100

Edited by Rollin, Gray, Mommer & Pineo 

211 pages, $17.95

Open Court Publishing, copyright 2006

by Sev Pearman 

Harley-Davidson and Philosophy. Biker Culture. The Zen of Motorcycling. If you are still reading, then go ahead and tackle this month’s book, Harley-Davidson and Philosophy. Written and edited by riders, it contains fourteen essays related to riding, the so-called “biker lifestyle,” art, fashion and motorcycles themselves.

The first essay, “Zen and the Art of Harley Riding,” by Graham Priest, put me off. In his essay, Mr. Priest analyzes the philosophy contained in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There is a presumption among many Harley riders that the Harley product and point of view is superior to and presumed over any other machine. In discussing what kind of bike Mr. Pirsig rode, Mr. Priest writes, “…the narrator…never…says what his bike is, but I assume that it probably was a Harley…” (Emphasis mine)

Has Mr. Priest ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? There is ample evidence, both printed and online, that Mr. Pirsig rode a Honda CB-77. While passion is cool, there is an element of Harley culture that is myopic, predictable and boring.

Other essays delight. I enjoyed Randall Auxier’s piece on modern “biker” archetypes with his claim that riders are modern pagans. Jonathan Goldstein offers an insightful history of motorcyclists as a sub-group and how corporate marketing divides riders. Editor Rollin turns a fine piece about motorcycles as art objects.

The same author offers the predictable rant on helmet laws. He peppers his essay on free will, individual rights and the imposition of societal mores with claims of the dangers of helmets. While you are free to ride without a helmet, please do not taint the waters with misinformation or suspect science.

David Jones’ “Riding Along the Way” reads like a “Rent-and-Ride” vacation report in Easyriders. He invites us to share his lazy Hawaiian ride and his right to ride lidless. Mr. Jones describes being passed by an anonymous, helmeted sportbike rider. He later passes the same rider who, despite his leather and helmet, has perished in a crash. Shortly thereafter, due to inattention, Mr. Jones has his own crash and offers an agonizing play-by-play of how “he had to lay ‘er down.” The speeding, helmeted (Jap bike) rider dies. The righteous, cruising, (American bike) rider lives. Puh-leeze.

This is blessedly balanced by Suzanne Ferriss’ essay, “Leather-Clad: Eroticism, Fetishism and other –isms in Biker Fashion.” In this piece, she dissects the leather jacket as a symbol of power, sexuality, fetish and fashion. Ms. Ferriss accurately notes that Brando rode a Triumph Speed Twin in the landmark “Biker Movie” “The Wild One”. MMM hopes that this will help dispel the myth of Brando and Harley in that film.

Harley Davidson and Philosophy has something for everyone, rider and non-rider, “biker” or sportbike rider, tourer or squid. I enjoyed most of the essays and the questions they raised, but was put off by some of the predictable “biker” script. Two out of four cylinders.


Freedom Rider® – Same old clichés and stereotypes.

Non-reader – “Socrates? Wasn’t he in Bill & Ted?”

Handlebar Philosopher – Read to Ride. Ride to Read.

MMM would like to thank John Pedrow for this month’s title. MMM welcomes your ideas for future book reviews. Send your suggestions to: sev@motorbyte.com Please put “Book Review” in the subject heading. M.M.M.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.